Chen Wei: Slumber Song

Based in Beijing, Chen Wei is a Chinese photographer who constructs conceptual installation pieces, presented as unusual scenes and spaces. These pieces resemble Wei’s intimate memories, as well as imaginations from childhood, and are placed alongside the realism of modern day China. The images combine elements that generate certain perceptions of fantasy and which touch an emotional chord. Wei’s understanding of installations has enabled him to build an awareness of space that successfully translates to photography. The scenes are cleverly constructed within Wei’s studio, assembling objects from fish tanks to broken mirrors to pursue inspirational, but quite frankly baffling juxtapositions. 

Wei has taken part in several solo shows, as well as a number of group exhibitions all over the world, and will be displaying his most recent work Slumber Song, at Ben Brown Fine Arts in London, which runs until 5 June 2014. Nina Band caught up with Wei to discuss his work.

NB: Did you begin working with installation or photography first?

CW: I first began participating in exhibitions because of my work in sound art. It wasn’t until later on that I started experimenting with installation and photography.

NB: Would you say you are performing to the camera, or is it a tool to document your performances?

CW: Most of my early works put a lot of focus on the characters’ performances, and the camera was indeed the tool for documenting these. However, I gradually had to shift part of the focus to the staging and framing. Because the means to document directly affects the work itself, the tool has become important as well.

NB: With the use of installation in Partial Melancholy, how important is it for your viewers to become physically incorporated into the surroundings of your work?

CW: This piece was my first attempt to create such a large installation piece in an exhibition, though I have in fact done a similar photo installation piece before. They are both a room with dripping rain, but the two pieces are vastly different. Photography is in the end a flattened representation of the world; it is about that which is not present. The main feature of the installation is to let the audience come into the exhibition space and see what is happening, but for me, whatever the presentation method, the interaction with the audience is indispensable.

NB: Do you feel combining installation and photography allows a more literal representation and experience towards the imagery?

CW: Sometimes whether the representation is literal is not that important, but having such a method of execution in the creative process allows my thoughts to become more concrete, and allows a deeper reflection at the same time.

NB: Coins and A Boy in the Fountain Basin are about the complex relationship humans have with objects, would you say your own experiences influenced this?

CW: Personal experience is of course a prerequisite – at the same time, my work also consistently deals with personal problems, the problem between the personal and the world.

NB: How long does it take to compose the compositions you capture? 

CW: It can take up to a month to compose a piece: from the appearance of the idea to the overall proposal, to the actual execution, the photographing, then the post-processing in the computer.

NB: Square format can often be known for its enclosure on space, would you say this was an important factor utilised to express the claustrophobic nature within some of your imagery?

CW: As you said, the square format and the feeling of claustrophobia I want present in my pieces is inseparable, it is a very important factor to establishing the atmosphere.

NB: There's certainly a link of storytelling between your series, where are you planning on taking your work next?

CW: Actually, I have been reducing the focus on narrative the last few years and have instead turned my attention to the language created through the intersection and interaction of the objects and the environment, as well as their relationship. I plan to keep focusing on photography and installation in the near future.

Chen Wei: Slumber Song runs until 5 June 2014 at Ben Brown Fine Arts.

Ben Brown Fine Arts
12 Brook's Mews

— Nina Band